Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chain of Evidence: Garry Disher's parallel cases and supporting characters

Those are two of the features that make Chain of Evidence work. The fourth in Garry Disher's Hal Challis/Ellen Destry series uses the time-honored device of parallel cases, and it keeps them parallel; they never meet. And several of the supporting characters are especially strong because they do just a bit more than supporting characters of similar type generally do.

The latter adds greatly to the novel's texture. A callous, career-minded chief is just a bit more callous and career-minded than most. A jealous, small-time corrupt, socially inept officer is just a little bit more than usual of each, enough that one wonders when he might go over the edge.

The parallel cases are a child abduction handled by Sgt. Ellen Destry on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia, and an old missing-persons case in which Destry's boss, Inspector Hal Challis, becomes involved while visiting his ailing father in South Australia. No, the cases do not come together to reveal hidden connections that no one would have dared imagine. Yes, they (and the novel) hold together, because of Challis' and Destry's mutual longing, personal on Challis' part, personal and professional on Destry's. It's an impressive way of binding two unrelated cases into one coherent novel. The South Australia case has the additional virtue of emerging seamlessly from a matter that relates to Challis's family. Challis' personal life is no mere device to add atmosphere or realism, in other words.

Other strong points relate to character as well, or rather to assumptions that Disher has investigators make about characters. I'll leave off, to avoid plot spoilers.

But I will ask you a question about characters. What other authors keep minor or supporting characters fresh by having them do things just a bit differently from other of their type?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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